A WOR­RY­ING TREND: TEENAGE PREG­NAN­CIES ON THE RISE

UN Pop­u­la­tion Fund says one in ev­ery five teenage girls be­tween 15-19 years have ei­ther had a live birth or are preg­nant

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read / Girl Child - BY MATHEWS NDANYI @ndany­i_­math­ews

Six­teen-year-old Janet Che­bet from Turbo sub-county in Uasin Gishu is al­ready a mother. She was forced to drop out of class 8 at a lo­cal pri­mary school in the area and did not even sit for her KCPE ex­ams last year.

“My teacher asked me to be his friend and af­ter some time I got preg­nant. I now have a baby and would have wished to go back to class but I have to stay home and take care of my baby”, she says.

Che­bet says she can not re­peat class eight in the same lo­cal­ity due to em­bar­rass­ment and has be­come the laugh­ing stock of her for­mer school mates and age mates in the area.

She is just one among thou­sands of girls in the Rift Val­ley re­gion which is record­ing an alarm­ingly high num­ber of teen preg­nan­cies. This has led to an equally high dropout rate of girls from schools in the re­gion.

Par­ents, teach­ers and ed­u­ca­tion stake­hold­ers are wor­ried that with the long hol­i­days this year, the prob­lem may worsen next year thus af­fect­ing girl-child ed­u­ca­tion in the re­gion where the girls still face many other chal­lenges in­clud­ing fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion, early mar­riages, defilement and other harm­ful cul­tural prac­tices.

Schools in Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Trans Nzoia and El­geyo Marak­wet have in the last two years recorded high dropout rates with Uasin Gishu stand­ing out the most af­fected.

Records from gov­ern­ment of­fices in the re­gion in­di­cate that at least 400 girls have dropped out of schools in the county due to preg­nan­cies in the last three years with Turbo sub-county worst af­fected.

Che­bet is among 22 girls aged be­tween 14 and 16 years had dropped out of Chep­saita, Osoron­gai, St Peters Soin and Boinet pri­mary and sec­ondary schools in Turbo Sub County. Uasin Gishu Deputy Gov­er­nor Daniel Chemno says many more cases have been re­ported in the re­gion.

“We have in­vested heav­ily in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor in­clud­ing giv­ing bur­saries to sup­port our stu­dents and we are to­tally against any­thing that may par­tic­u­larly af­fect girl childe ed­u­ca­tion”, said Uasin Gishu gov­er­nor Jack­son Mandago.

“The prob­lem of early preg­nan­cies for school girls is very se­ri­ous and we have to tackle it if we are to en­sure that our girls pur­sue ed­u­ca­tion to high­est level pos­si­ble”, said Chemno. He has been push­ing to have 22 men re­spon­si­ble for the preg­nan­cies in Turbo brought to jus­tice but he re­grets that the cases have taken too long in var­i­ous courts yet the young girls have al­ready bore the con­se­quences by giv­ing birth and drop­ping out of schools turn­ing them into young moth­ers with a bleak fu­ture as they have no means to earn a liv­ing.

Many of the sus­pects charged be­fore the courts in El­doret have de­nied of­fenses in­clud­ing defilement, hav­ing car­nal knowl­edge with mi­nors and im­preg­nat­ing school girls. Po­lice ar­gue that the cases have to fol­low due process just like other crimes hence the de­lays.

Uasin Gishu County Com­mis­sioner Abdi Has­san says the preg­nan­cies among school girls are also very high in slum ar­eas of El­doret town and other cen­ters largely due to ram­pant abuse of drugs and al­co­hol among youth.

“As a so­ci­ety we have to go deeper and look into the prob­lem of teen preg­nan­cies, defilement of young girls and the high drop out rates of girls,” says Has­san.

Teach­ers, boda boda op­er­a­tors, driv­ers, touts and idle youth are be­ing blamed for the preg­nan­cies and Chemno says re­gard­less of who they are, the law should not spare any­one in­volved in im­preg­nat­ing schools girls.

Chair­man of the Mus­lim Preach­ers and Imams in Rift Val­ley Abubakar Bini along with Bishop Cor­nelius Korir of the Catholic Church in El­doret ar­gue that so­ci­ety has lost its morals to the ex­tend that adults fail to take care chil­dren or school girls in uni­form when they come across them.

“Apart from the preg­nan­cies we have very many cases of abor­tion among the young girls and as a church and par­ents, we must de­vise ways to take of the girls through good par­ent­ing, guid­ing and coun­sel­ing”, said Bishop Korir.

He says par­ents have be­come too busy leav­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity of guid­ing the youth to sec­ond par­ties like teach­ers, peers, in­ter­net and strangers.

The Catholic Church has in­sisted that it will not ac­cept to have sex ed­u­ca­tion in­tro­duced in schools yet some stake­hold­ers ar­gue that such ed­u­ca­tion would be vi­tal in cre­at­ing aware­ness among youth on the dan­gers of en­gag­ing in pre­ma­ture sex ac­tiv­i­ties.

Korir says hav­ing sex ed­u­ca­tion in schools amounts to sell­ing hu­man

FOUR CASES OF DEFILEMENT ARE RECORDED IN KITALE TOWN EV­ERY WEEK AND RECORDS IN­DI­CATE THAT MANY OF THE CASES END UP IN PREG­NAN­CIES

dig­nity and mis­lead­ing the youth.

He adds that par­ents must be al­lowed to con­tinue play­ing the role of guid­ing school chil­dren on moral­ity and dis­ci­pline.

“Now we have the long hol­i­days and par­ents should take ex­tra care espe­cially for the girls be­cause un­less they do so, we are likely to record high in­ci­dences of preg­nan­cies who may then be forced to drop out of schools next year”, said Bini.

In the same county, twenty girls dropped out of Son­goliet Mixed Day sec­ondary school due to preg­nan­cies and the school prin­ci­pal Sypro Kiz­ito says the girls were im­preg­nated mostly by boda boda op­er­a­tors in the area.

Kiz­ito wants lead­ers and the com­mu­nity in the area to help put up board­ing fa­cil­i­ties for girls so that they can live within the school com­pound.

“As a teacher I have noted that we are over­ex­pos­ing our girls to strangers while they are away from schools and home. Th­ese in­ci­dences can be re­duced by hav­ing many board­ing schools for girls”, she says.

She says while on tran­sit to and from the day schools, many girls come into con­tact with boda boda op­er­a­tors and matatu touts who in many cases mis­lead the young girls caus­ing them to engage in pre­ma­ture sex.

Na­tional Par­ents As­so­ci­a­tion chair­man Ni­cholas Maiyo says they will dis­cuss the is­sue with the gov­ern­ment and other stake­hold­ers in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor.

“Our fo­cus should be on hav­ing our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem more child cen­tered and this means that both girls and boys must be looked at equally in terms of is­sues that may af­fect their progress”, said Maiyo. He said they will col­lect na­tional data from schools and other de­tails on the preg­nan­cies to help de­velop in­ter­ven­tions.

Out of the 22 men fac­ing charges for im­preg­nat­ing girls in Turbo area, eight of them are un­trained teach­ers with many more cases in­volv­ing such teach­ers have been re­ported across the re­gion. Chemno says that even though the coun­try faces a short­age of teach­ers, schools should not be al­lowed to hire un­trained teach­ers be­cause they have not gone through the nec­es­sary train­ing to be able to han­dle school girls while on duty.

It’s es­ti­mated that Trans Nzoia has more than 150 girls drop­ping out of schools last year due to preg­nan­cies.

Four months ago, the gov­ern­ment or­dered of­fi­cials at Moi Girls Kap­sowar High School to re-ad­mit eight preg­nant girls who had been ex­pelled and barred from reg­is­ter­ing to sit for this year’s KCSE ex­ams.

El­geyo Marak­wet County Direc­tor of Ed­u­ca­tion Sabina Aroni di­rected Prin­ci­pal Di­nah Cheruiyot to en­sure the girls are reg­is­tered and says schools should look into ways of help­ing such girls con­tinue with their ed­u­ca­tion by re­sum­ing school in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions to avoid stig­ma­ti­sa­tion.

Chemno was also push­ing to have the girls in Turbo area re-ad­mit­ted to schools af­ter giv­ing birth.

“The girls must be given a sec­ond chance to get an ed­u­ca­tion and as stake­hold­ers we have to strongly sup­port their re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion while en­sur­ing that jus­tice is served on those re­spon­si­ble for ru­in­ing the lives of the young girls”, said Chemno.

But Has­san re­grets that many such cases of preg­nan­cies or defilement of young girls are han­dled through =kan­ga­roo courts within com­mu­ni­ties where the per­pe­tra­tors end up free while the young girls and their par­ents are left to bear the bur­den for the rest of their lives.

He says the Chil­dren’s Act and other le­gal pro­vi­sions do al­low such means of han­dling th­ese crim­i­nal cases through lo­cal chan­nels but this only helps to in­crease the rate of such preg­nan­cies be­cause per­pe­tra­tors re­main roam­ing the vil­lages.

“We can not al­low such se­ri­ous crim­i­nal acts to be han­dled in kan­ga­roo courts when there are clear le­gal pro­vi­sions to deal with those in­volved”, says Has­san adding that par­ents or of­fi­cers found con­don­ing such kan­ga­roo courts should be ar­rested and pros­e­cuted along with the men re­spon­si­ble for the preg­nan­cies.

Chair­per­son of the Anti-FGM board Li­nah Kil­imo is a mem­ber of a com­mit­tee plan­ning the launch of a ma­jor cam­paign against early mar­riages coun­try­wide. She says many girls fall preg­nant while still in school and are forced to drop out due to early mar­riages and more of­ten get ex­posed to many health risks like fis­tula.

All stake­hold­ers agree that if the prob­lem is not dealt with, vil­lages across the coun­try will be full of il­lit­er­ate teenage moth­ers, a sit­u­a­tion which would be a re­verse of ef­forts to im­prove the stan­dards of ed­u­ca­tion and health­care for all Kenyans.

/MONICAH MWANGI

Anti FGM board Chair Li­nah Je­bii Kil­imo dances with Pokot girls as 96 of them res­cued from FGM and early mar­riages grad­u­ated at St. El­iz­a­beth Girls Cen­tre in Or­tum, West Pokot on Sep tem­ber 19

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